Bowsy

In Brief

In the first chapter Mulligan's mocking, playful, imitative voice is filled not only with many echoes of upper-crust British speech ("old chap," "spiffing," "dreadful," "beastly"), but also with many scruffier idioms particular to Dublin and Ireland. Some of the latter, like "scutter" and "bowsy," require annotation for non-natives.

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After frowning "at the lather on his razorblade," Mulligan utters an obscure imprecation: "— Scutter! he cried thickly." According to Kiberd, in Dublin slang it is "a dismissive term; it means a watery stool." Slote cites a definition in the OED: "a variant of squitter, 'to have diarrhoea.'"  Just before grabbing Stephen's handkerchief out of his pocket, then, Mulligan seems to be saying something like, Would you look at all this shit on my razor!

A little later, he says of the black "secondhand breeks" (dialectical for breeches, britches, trousers, pants) that he has somehow obtained for Stephen, "God knows what poxy bowsy left them off." In Dublin slang a bowsy (bowsie, bowsey) is a disreputable, ill-behaved, good-for-nothing male. Gifford cites one Gerry O'Flaherty, quoted in a book titled Dublin (1983) as saying that a bowsie is "an unemployed layabout who loves nothing better than to shout abusive remarks, usually of a sexual nature, after passing girls." Imagining this lout also to have been disease-ridden is hardly calculated to make the recipient of the clothes feel comfortable in them.

When Mulligan tries to coax Stephen down from the parapet to have breakfast with Haines, he says: "Dedalus, come down, like a good mosey." Kiberd identifies this as Dublin slang for a wanderer, "often used as a term of endearment." The word can have other meanings, however. Gifford suggests "Someone who strolls slowly or shuffles"—the familiar American meaning, which would make the summons somewhat less friendly. Slote cites a definition in the English Dialect Dictionary, "Idiot or fool," which would remove all affection.

Later, immersed in smoke while making breakfast, Mulligan exclaims, "Janey Mack, I'm choked!" Gifford cites this as an instance of "what the Irish call 'dodging the curse,' a euphemistic form of Jesus Jack." He notes also that this weak curse is commonly used in Ireland, and cites lines from a children's rhyme: "Janey Mac, me shirt is black, / What'll I do for Sunday? / Go to bed and cover me head / And not get up till Monday." A very similar curse-dodging follows a few sentences later: "Where's the sugar? O, jay, there's no milk." "Jay" here stands in for Jesus.

JH 2019
Source: lovindublin.com.